Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Zion Canyon from Observation Point

Observation Point in Zion National Park is an absolute gem. Although there are more popular hikes in the park, such as Angels Landing, two park rangers told us that this hike was their favorite. Simply put, the trail starts off with grand views, and only gets better the higher you climb.

I highly recommend starting as early in the morning as possible in order to take advantage of the shade from the towering cliffs for a large portion of your climb.

The hike begins from the Weeping Rock Trailhead, and immediately begins climbing a series of long switchbacks up Cable Mountain. Much of this trail was blasted out of the canyon walls in the 1920s. As the trail climbs higher you’ll have stunning views of Angels Landing, The Organ, and Big Bend in the Virgin River:

At roughly 1.5 miles the trail leaves the cliff side and enters into the incredibly beautiful Echo Canyon. For the next half-mile you’ll have a nice break from the relentless climbing.

In some ways Echo Canyon was even more impressive than the views from Observation Point. This narrow canyon, sitting roughly 1100 feet above the trailhead, would make a wonderful destination by itself. The trail follows along a shelf above the canyon floor, with an extremely narrow slot canyon sitting just below it.

To get an idea of the immensity of this canyon, see if you can spot my wife at the very bottom of this photo:

Looking over the side of the trail I spotted this interesting looking hole, roughly 200 feet below:

Once out of the canyon the trail begins to climb again, and will gain roughly 900 feet over the next mile. Roughly 60% of this hike has some exposure that leads to long drop-offs. However, most of the trail is at least 4-5 feet in width, with some places narrowing down to maybe three. Obviously if you have a fear of heights you’re going to feel very uncomfortable on this trail. For the most part I was able to do my normal pace, and didn’t feel any intimidation. There was one section, about a tenth-of-a-mile long near the final push to the rim that did make me a little nervous. This section of the hike stands-out prominently from Observation Point. In the photo below you can see a “Z” etched into the side of the white cliff face. This is another part of the path that has been blasted out of the rock:

Other than this one short section, if you’re used to hiking in the mountains, you likely won’t have any other problems with vertigo-inducing drop-offs.

Beyond the “Z” the trail levels out for the most part, and begins to hug the forested cliffside over the course of the last mile to Observation Point.

From Observation Point you’ll have one of the great iconic images of Zion National Park. The views are just awesome. From this vantage point Angels Landing, The Organ and Big Bend will be the most prominent landmarks almost directly below you. On the west side of the canyon you’ll see Cathedral Mountain and the Three Patriarchs. On the left is the East Rim, Cable Mountain and the Great White Throne. Running down the middle of the valley is the Virgin River as it flows towards Springdale and beyond.

Afterwards we drove into Springdale and had a great burger and an oven fired pizza from the Flying Monkey.

Trail: Observation Point
Roundtrip Distance: 8.0 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 2150 feet
Max Elevation: 6507 Feet

Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks covers 56 hikes in the two parks, as well as the surrounding areas, such as Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park


Sharon said...

Again, I cannot tell you how much I've enjoyed these hike reports. So much fun to read accounts from others of hikes you've personally done. We did not do this one as my husband does have an extreme fear of heights, so we didn't attempt this or Angel's Landing. Not certain even I could do Angel's Landing, but when (not if!!) we go back, I'll not miss Observation Point even if he has to sit in a rocker at the Lodge while I'm gone!! LOL!

The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

Sharon - thank you! There's no way I would attempt to do Angels Landing either! The trail up to Echo Canyon is not too bad. As I mentioned in my report, Echo Canyon would be an excellent destination. My wife doesn't like heights either, and she wasn't too uncomfortable on that section. She did have a problem with the last section up to the rim though. Maybe you could convince your husband to at least go up to Echo Canyon!